Often I am asked how long someone should be training their dog each day. Should it be 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30? How do I train my own dogs? Do I set up ‘training times’?
Well, the answer is yes and no.
How long do I train my dog for?
I do, often, get my dogs to do something new and useful. Sometimes we revise old, useful things. Sometimes we learn old or new things that have no real practical use at all. It’s fun, good ways of communicating together, and is teaching the dog that I am predictably rewarding!
Usually, I spend as long as it takes to get the very first bit of the behaviour that I had in mind. Then, I leave it. I guess if you timed me, it would be around 2-5 minutes maximum. If you counted repetitions, that might give you a clearer answer, but then it wouldn’t necessarily be a guide for what you would need to do with your own dog. Then after a short break, I come back to it and we do a little more. Usually I finish after a few brief sessions and breaks and go off and do something else. I might spend up to an hour or so doing this throughout the day, as I have more than one dog and sometimes have up to 5 dogs to work with.
Now, most people will look askance at me if they have a very busy family life. They usually ask, ‘How do you fit it all in?’. I can see them self-defeating their purpose of having a lovely obedient pet, just by thinking they will not have the extra time to do this training, even if it’s 5 minutes at a time. After all, I am a professional dog trainer, right, so I have this kind of time that other folks do not have. Right?
Again – the answer is, yes and no.
How do I find this time to train my dog?
This is not a time for me to tell you about my personal day and how I constantly juggle to fit my professional, social and family arrangements into a coherent mass. In fact, we live in what feels like chaos a lot of the time. I don’t need to describe to you the busy world of a working adult, Mum or Dad, Grandparent etc – I am sure you know that already. Follow me on Twitter if you would like to see the kind of mayhem my day consists of!
The times that I do the above dog training, are fitted in and around my day. I don’t go into ‘dog school’ mode. I am usually waiting for the kettle to boil, or the oven timer to beep, or the TV adverts to finish… or when outdoors, for the traffic to pass so we can cross the road, or whilst I am reading a noticeboard in my village, or whilst I am waiting for my coffee in a cafe. I could be waiting for my children outside their school, or sitting working (for working, read ‘chatting to my nice doggy friends on Twitter’) at my desk. I might even be having a drink at the pub with my friends!
My point is this. Your dog may even go to dog training class, but the training in class – sometimes only once a week – is only a tiny part of what you both do for the rest of the time. You want a calm, happy dog that doesn’t race out of your front door. You want a calm, happy dog that doesn’t jump and mouth at visitors to your house. You want a calm, happy dog that ______________ (you can insert any behaviour of your choice here).
So, where and when better to learn such things than at these places? Where and when better to teach, than every part of every day where and when you actually want your dog to learn?
Your training class is your home, your work, your walks, your daily life. There are always periods in each day where you interact with the dog. Make them useful. Everyday training is simple, repetitive, and does not have to take extra time from your day.
So next time you are thinking ‘How long should I train my dog for?’ instead think ‘I am already training my dog, every second of every day’. Turn those precious seconds to your advantage!